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Tied to the Past: A Critique of Tashi Wangdi's Candidacy

posted Mar 10, 2011, 5:01 AM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 10, 2011, 5:50 PM ]

By Gelek Badheytsang, Toronto

Toronto, Feb 26, 2011 - It's not too often that you get to experience a campaign stop that is as bizarre and confusing as Tashi Wangdi's in Toronto. On a grey Saturday afternoon, with light flakes of snow and hail gently blowing outside, Tibetans gathered in a church basement to hear from a man that many believe will play a crucial role in the elections. The basement hall was filled to capacity; nearly 200 people of all ages and sizes seated on folding chairs, with campaign literature on their laps and an expectant look on their faces. The crowd had a feel of almost willing something into existence. If it was about Tashi Wangdi becoming the next Kalon Tripa, well then, they were in for a rude awakening.

First up on the podium was the campaign manager, Mr. Singay Rapten. He set the tone for the event by embarking on a longwinded speech that was not lacking for passion but of substance. In a series of head scratching anecdotes and quips, he managed to not only break the cardinal rule of the sales pitch (timing; guy spoke for more than 30 minutes), but also dredge up unseemly points that served no purpose at all towards Tashi Wangdi's candidacy (he brought up the case of the "Mr. Clean" posters, adamant in his belief that it was innocuous and all in good fun).

He actually said at one point that one of the reasons he believes Tashi Wangdi is the right guy for the top job in the TGIE is because Wangdi la always managed to complete his laps during their high school track meets. "This was a sign of a person who saw things to the very end." I am not making this up.

This spirited yet vacuous endorsement was followed by four other speakers. All very sincere. And yet, not a hint of an insight or vision that pointed towards a new beginning for the exile Tibetans. All of them stressed on how tenured and committed Wangdi la was in the service of HHDL. 20+ years of experience. They kept reminding the audience of that number. And lost in those twenty years was mention of any initiatives or far-reaching decisions that shook the staid affairs in Dharamsala.

The overarching theme was one of not rocking the boat. But is that what we really need at the moment? Someone who keeps the boat afloat but takes us nowhere in particular?

After over an hour of ruminating on this question, Tashi Wangdi finally took the podium. With a sheepish grin and a resigned look about his face, Wangdi la seemed rather drained from the whole pomp and circumstance surrounding his campaign. He started off on an apologetic tone, confiding that the surging expectations prior were maybe a little out of hand. In a way, his brand of humility was refreshing. From another perspective, it's absolutely mind boggling.

There was a moment during Tashi Wangdi's speech that crystallized the absurdity of his late foray into the Kalon Tripa election. After presenting his case that, yes, he was someone you could count on to be reliable, he addressed some points of clarifications that had more to do with campaign buzzes and rumours than anything else. Finally, as a way of rounding up his "pitch", he mentioned that he believes all three of the candidates are capable leaders, and that he doesn't really care who ends up winning the election (khè par chig ey min doogh).

Just so we heard him clearly, he repeated that point one more time during the Q & A session.

I may be young and brash (among many other things), missing out on the wisdom of subtlety and skill of nuance, but I don't think it's reaching even for me to declare right then and there that Tashi Wangdi was not meant to run for the post of Kalon Tripa.

Where was the passion? Where was the urgency? Why should anyone be compelled to support his platform, whatever it is, when he himself isn't fully convinced about his special role? Why is he still in the race?

Trying to become a Prime Minister is no easy task. There's all the campaigning, fundraising, fact-checking, and the matter of putting your personal life on hold. To paraphrase Boromir from the Lord of the Rings, "one does not simply walk into a katri race." If you're in it, it's because you genuinely believe that you offer something that no one else is bringing to the table. Why else would you go through all the trouble, save for vanity or pride? It's become pretty clear with Wangdi la that that's not the case with him. So this then becomes even more doubly confounding.

Just because people, for whatever reasons, think you're the one, doesn't mean that that in itself should be the sole guide behind your decisions. I mean, I bet I know some people who think I'm the best guy to run the local cafè. But that doesn't automatically qualify me to assume the manager's position. And I never wanted to be a store manager anyway, so why submit the application form in the first place?

It was from that moment, and also from subsequent follow ups and reiterations from Wangdi la, that I concluded that my weekend afternoon spent in the church basement was not fruitless after all. I became convinced that the Tashi Wangdi campaign was an uphill battle without any clear purpose, built on the foundation of those who would rather see the continuation of the same old, same old.

I remain steadfast in my belief that it is time to inject some new blood into our democracy. The two other candidates, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Dr. Lobsang Sangay, while not drastically different from one another, at least present compelling narratives that point towards a new direction for our govt.-in-exile. Tashi Wangdi's claim to the post, replete with steady hands and measured pragmatism, is void of vision and inspiration. If it has any, I have failed to see it. After experiencing his campaign stop in Toronto, I don't hold out much hope to be surprised.

Tashi Wangdi is an honest and capable leader. He is also the most likely of the three candidates to fill in the mold of the last administration.

We have chosen, for better or worse, ten years of administration and guidance under Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche's leadership. It is time we tried something different, for the sake of our democracy and our people. Without alternating visions and leaderships, we are in danger of falling into stagnation and worse, regression.

This election promises to be a brave new frontier for our nascent democracy. Let's stake our ambition beyond just the walls that surround us and keep us safe. Let's actually be a little daring for a change.

My message to Tashi Wangdi la: if you are reading this, please reconsider your candidacy, and endorse one candidate who you believe will be the best person to lead us into the future. You are an important piece of our community, and you may yet play a pivotal role in rekindling our democracy.

I want to end on this inspiring note by the famous civil rights leader, Dr. Howard Thurman, because I think it wonderfully applies to Tashi Wangdi la.

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."



Editors' Reminder: Publication of any article does not imply endorsement of its views by the Editors.